Leila Aboulela, Lisa Appignanesi, Florian Zeller and Catherine Millet, photographed at the closing evening of Free the Word! 2009 at Shakespeare’s Globe, Southbank, London

Free the Word! is PEN International in spirit and actions – events for authors and readers to make sparks across the divide between national literatures.

Sir Tom Stoppard


Free the Word! is PEN International’s roaming event series of contemporary literature from around the world. The Free the Word! team works with PEN Centres, festivals and book fairs to develop an international network of literary events. Each event is rooted in its local culture, but international in outlook.

Established in 2008 in London as a festival, Free the Word! events have since taken place in Austria, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Haiti, Russia, Turkey, Germany, South Africa, Iceland, South Korea, Colombia, Lebanon, Argentina and many other locales. For photos from some of these events visit our Flickr site here or see above.

Free the Word! aims to:
  • Bring writers together across cultures to share experiences and explore ideas;
  • Open conversations about how literature can transform, influence and excite;
  • Contribute to the flow of literature around the world through translation and the promotion of writing;
  •  Introduce readers to both established and emerging voices;
  • Provide space for debate and dialogue between readers and writers.

Free the Word! events are flexible and vary in length, from an afternoon to a five-day festival, depending on the local context. It is also possible for PEN Centres to work – independently of, but with guidance from, PEN International – with festivals and book fairs to programme Free the Word! events of their own.

PEN International, with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, has also produced a series of Best Practice Guidelines for organising international literary festivals and events. To download these guidelines please click here.